Holzworth hearing to start next quarter

Erik Jorgensen, Staff Writer

The criminal trial proceeded slowly with attorneys on both sides scheduling an evidentiary hearing to test the validity of search warrants served against Jeffrey Holzworth, the former Santa Rosa Junior College District Police officer accused of pilfering more than $300,000 from SRJC parking machines since 2005.

The 28-year veteran held sole responsibility for collecting money from parking machines at SRJC campuses in Petaluma, Santa Rosa and Windsor, and faces 11 counts of receiving stolen property and one charge of grand theft; his wife Karen faces three counts of receiving stolen property and one count of acting as an accessory.

On Nov. 21 Judge Kenneth Gnoss heard arguments from Assistant District Attorney Amy Ariyoshi and defense attorney Joe Passalaqua regarding motions to quash and traverse the affidavits and search warrants served by Santa Rosa Police Department detectives on Nov. 28, 2012. Detectives discovered receipts from SRJC parking machines and ATMs, casino player’s club cards, gambling records and several caches of stashed cash in quarters, $1 bills and $5 bills totaling $13,487.

Ariyoshi explained the difference between motions to quash and motions to traverse a search warrant outside the courtroom after the hearing. A motion to quash corresponds to the “four corners of the warrant itself,” such as a lack of probable cause or if the judge reviewing the warrant got something wrong. A motion to traverse corresponds to search warrants based on misrepresentation or reckless falsehoods. In a review of either of these motions, quashing is limited to the search warrant itself without bringing in additional evidence, whereas traversing requires bringing in outside information.

“It’s all a technicality issue,” Ariyoshi said.

In court, Passalaqua’s motions all focused on “the fruit of the poisoned tree,” a legal doctrine excluding evidence obtained from improper search warrants. If the warrant itself, the “poisoned tree,” is illegal,  then any evidentiary “poisoned fruit” found is also inadmissible.

Passalaqua described two incidents, in 2006 and in 2012, when SRJC District Police officer Steve Potter discovered evidence suggesting Holzworth’s misappropriation of the parking meter money he was entrusted to collect. Potter’s observations amounted to a warrantless search by an on-duty officer, Passalaqua said.

In 2006, Potter saw a gym bag in the District Police locker room and unzipped it to verify the bag’s owner. Inside, Potter saw the laptop Holzworth allegedly used to erase the internal memories inside the parking machines, as well as a “large sum of U.S. currency,” and secured the gym bag in the evidence locker. Passalaqua said this constituted a warrantless search by an on-duty officer.

Ariyoshi countered, saying it was merely an action of one co-worker securing another’s valuable property accidentally left out. “There is no indication any officer had any suspicions or any knowledge of violation of law,” she said. “The reasonable presumption was Holzworth got his bag back and proceeded to act as normal.”

Passalaqua disagreed and said, “Potter was not acting as a private citizen, because private citizens cannot lock items into evidence.”

On Oct. 24, 2012 Holzworth, in his personal vehicle, gave Potter a ride to a defense training session at Tauzer Gym, and Potter said he noticed the cup holders were full of quarters, and no other coins. When Holzworth stepped out of the vehicle monetarily, Potter opened the center console and looked inside, where he saw six stacks of $1 and $5 bills. Ariyoshi said this was the action of a private citizen getting a ride from a co-worker, not an active investigation by an on-duty officer, and there was no reasonable expectation of privacy in an unlocked center console.

Passalaqua disagreed and said, “If I was a guest in Your Honor’s car, you wouldn’t want me to go through your center console – and vice versa. The Fourth Amendment has to stand for something, and if it doesn’t protect from the Fruit of the Poisonous Tree, then why have it at all?”

Ariyoshi said California law doesn’t support the assertion that a law enforcement officer is on duty at all times, and even while on duty an officer’s actions may be those of a private citizen, not an acting agent of the government. For example, in 2012 when Holzworth gave Potter a ride to their defense training session, they wore civilian clothes and did not have their handguns with them. “There is no indication Potter was acting as law enforcement. He wasn’t investigating a crime,” Ariyoshi said.

“It’s ludicrous to say he wasn’t on duty,” Passalaqua said. “When you are a salaried officer, part of your job is defense training.” In regard to Holzworth’s unsupervised oversight of collecting money from campus parking machines, “That supports bad policy on the part of the JC – no mechanisms in place,” Passalaqua said.

Outside the courtroom after the hearing, Ariyoshi said law enforcement officers do not have extra Fourth Amendment rights. “It’s outrageous to take advantage of the fact a police officer is surrounded by other police officers, to use that as a technicality,” Ariyoshi said. “Can an officer shoot somebody in the head, as long as it was only observed by another officer? It’s an absurd technicality to base a case on.”

In the worst case, Ariyoshi said, if the judge dismissed the entire case by tossing out Potter’s affidavit, the District Attorney’s office would “strenuously disagree” and file an appeal, but expressed doubt the entire search warrant would be thrown out. “Everything else is a plain sight observation,” Ariyoshi said. “Just suppressing two observations, from 2006 and 2012, to just ignore everything else over a 6-year time frame, would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The defense can’t attack basic facts, that Holzworth had control of that job. He was master of his own domain.”

Passalaqua had no comment outside of court.

On Dec. 3, 2013 attorneys from both sides met in court briefly to schedule an evidentiary hearing at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 15, 2014 in courtroom 15, where Potter and SRPD  detectives Azzouni and Lazzarini will give testimony supporting the probable cause backing up their search warrant affidavits.